Wise Woman Tradition - The Way of the Wild Heart
My interest in herbs has taken me on a journey back through time into ancient history, into an era when women's values, such as reverence, receptivity, flexibility, cooperation, health, hearth, home and family, were predominant. Men and women lived in harmony with their inner, cyclic natures and with the rhythms of the earth.
Archaeological studies reveal this nature-centered time in earth's story lasted for at least 35,000 years. People honored the feminine image, the goddess, and revered her as mother, creator, nurturer and sustainer-of-all-life. I believe that these pastoral people held all beings to be sacred and deserving of respect.
These ancient times fostered an incredibly rich, woman-centered healing tradition, as old as humans have been on the planet, and yet still very much alive in diverse cultures world-wide. This ages-old approach to health is commonly referred to today as the Wise Woman Tradition. The Wise Woman Tradition tells us that it is through the wise use of herbs, the cultivation of a wild and compassionate heart, and the acting out of simple ceremony that we heal the whole person.
The Wise Woman Tradition encourages us to focus on nourishing herbs common to the area in which we live, the ones that grow abundantly and are readily available. A wild hearted wise woman looks for herbs that grow along the paths she walks, in the empty lot across the street, in the field beside her home, or underneath a favorite tree. The Wise Woman Tradition teaches that wild foods and herbs are whole, integrated nourishment carrying spiritual, emotional, physical and other invisible energies. It invites us to enter into resonance with these nature-given energy sources.
The Wise Woman Tradition likes to keep things simple. The wise woman allies herself with a single herb - a simple - then gives herself the time and opportunity to encounter the many possibilities, subtle energies and unique properties of that herb. She builds a foundation of knowledge and trust by simply using one herb at a time while paying close attention. The wise woman makes a commitment to know each herb deeply, as she would a dear friend. In this way, she develops a small circle of intimate green allies she can count on in diverse circumstances.
The emphasis is on optimum nourishment, with a deep respect for, and trust in, the body/mind/spirit's intrinsic inclination toward health and wholeness. Understanding this, we create a strong foundation, using herbs as a wellspring of support. We know that true health and well-being flow from nourishment.
The wise woman/man creates simple rituals and ceremonies to ground and focus their experience, and to help open their wild heart. We give thanks before our meals, praise each new morning, and joyfully tuck our children into bed each night. Through conscious and attentive enactment of these simple daily rituals, the wise woman affirms and acknowledges the sacredness of daily everyday life.
Wise women want stories. We understand that when we know the story of an individual, a community, a place or a plant, or even just part of the story, we can begin to expose deeper truths and find deeper meaning. Every story is a part of the whole story. By opening our wild hearts to the stories the plants have to share, we deeply nourish the planet and ourselves. By exposing and sharing our personal stories, we deeply nourish each other and ourselves. If some of your personal story lines no longer nourish you, you are entirely free to change them. Rewrite your own story if necessary. Make it glorious!
My students share their individual stories as a way of introduction at our first class meeting. They learn to listen with deep compassion, for themselves and their peers. I know that, over time, we will each become a part of the other's story, adding essential threads to the warp and weft that reweaves ancient, healing ways.
Wise women (and men) are wild-heart-centered. Deep compassion for our collective humanness comes by concerning ourselves with development of the wild heart's truth, attention, forgiveness and love. Opening to our many contradictions, we realize that validation of each unique reality and perspective is a fundamental component of nourishment.
Consider good health to be an ever-changing state of being, grounded in everyday experience, and accept and acknowledge our pain or problem as an ally. Seek the grace to embrace the problem as a gift full of benefits, rather than attempting to fix, cure or eradicate it. Allow the problem to point the way toward true health and healing. In these ways, the problem becomes our friend and ally.
An ancient admonition tells us to “go to the wound for healing and receive from your wound its gift.” Look to your pain with a new perspective. Allow it to reveal its unique offerings. For instance, when my foot hurts, I’ve learned to take the time to soak it and rub it with St. John’s wort oil. I might put it up and rest awhile. I appreciate my foot for the little break it afforded me, by calling attention to the fact that I needed one. Then I go back to work, refreshed and in less pain.
Men can be wise women too! Every person has the capacity to bring forth the inner wise woman and honor the wise woman in others. Each of us has the capacity to open our wild hearts and to live our lives with attention, compassion and love. We can all align ourselves with the plants and learn how to use them for nourishment and healing.
NEW GROWTH The primary principles of the Wise Woman Tradition have been guiding principles of my life for many years:
The reliance on common, abundant, nourishing local herbs in season.
The development and cultivation of an open, wild and compassionate heart.
The use of ceremony to inform our sense of sacredness of everyday life.
The more I’ve focused on bringing these simple principles into my life, grounding them into my activities, attitudes and perceptions, the more fully realized my life seemed to become.
However, as often happens, ideas and values, our sense of ethics, even principles to live by, shift and change, metamorphose into something new and grow into something more meaningful as life goes on. If we cling to the old, and refuse to answer the call of our own expansion, we risk becoming stifled and cease to move forward.
As my life and my practice of Community Herbalism has matured and ripened over the decades, I began to notice new green growth sprouting out from the side of the venerable old wise woman tree trunk. Something sweet and beautiful began to amplify the heart message, began calling out for me to name it and give it voice. What was emerging from my depths, I realized, has slowly evolved across the years of my practice with both plants and people. The emphasis of my work is shifting to the deliberate cultivation of our open, loving, wild heart and extending that love to all of creation. This I see as key to our survival and success both as healers and as earthlings.
The Way of the Wild Heart is the path that speaks most clearly to who I am now and resonates most soundly with how I intend to proceed from here.
The Way of the Wild Heart speaks of the need for a conscious re-wilding of the human spirit and intentional cultivation of what I have long referred to as our wild hearts. This wildness resides within each and every one of us. It is critical in today’s world that we learn to connect with it, for it resonates with the wild heart of the earth and all that is alive upon her.
Our wild heart oscillates in tune with the endless, nourishing, rhythmic pulse of the earth, flows boundlessly with the electromagnetic waves of her being. She is informing every beat of our hearts, every step and every breath. Our wild heart is our connection to all life on this planet that we call our home.
This wild heart within us is an outstanding and fundamentally necessary, yet much overlooked, component of our natural intelligence. It yearns for connection and is ever ready to empathize, sympathize, to truly know, understand and love.
Without intentional cultivation and activation of this wild heart within that connects us to all other living beings, we are cast adrift on the seas of life, with no real connection to the earth. No sense of mother or wonder. No true sense of home.
We humans are a part of nature; we fit perfectly into the natural rhythms of life. Our hearts, brains and nervous systems are highly evolved and interconnected systems. So are these systems within the plants. The communication between humans and plants, and all other life forms on earth, is common and constant. We just have not been taught to pay attention. Opening our wild hearts requires learning to pay attention.
Our perceptions about the earth and ourselves are always changing. Perceptions are fluid, resilient, non-static, supple and elastic. These are remarkable times we are living in now. Witness the constantly shifting edges, boundaries loosening, merging with one another. We are dancing together on the ever-changing rim of life. We are edge-walkers and shapeshifters. We are the outer membrane of the earth. And, as biologists now tell us, the intelligent heart of each individual cell is its membrane, the outer surface that comes into contact with all other surfaces in its area, the part of the cell that gets to socialize, rub up against its neighbors, soak up the latest news, communicate freely and be a full participant in the feedback loop. It is not the hidden, protected center, the nucleus/brain of the cell, as we were all taught in school.
Plants, it turns out, can see, hear, smell and respond to environmental cues and dangers - especially to virulent pathogens or threatening insects. They do this with the aid of hundreds of membrane proteins that can sense microbes or other stressors. The thinking heart and intelligence of each plant is in its root tip, the part that grows, that searches out mineral richness, the part that interacts with the soil and its microbial life, and the part that decides where to go. We’re really not so different.
We humans are taught to think with our heads, to use our heads. We like to get the heads up, be ahead of the game, dive head first into things and generally lead with our heads. It may be, though, thinking with our heads is only a small fraction of what we are capable of.
Science is now discovering that we have a completely different powerhouse/processor/information center, one that is potentially even more illuminating and significant than the brain and the function of which we are just beginning to conceptualize. It turns out that when measured electromagnetically, it is our heart that gives off a much stronger, more dynamic and more complex signal than the brain by a factor of roughly 5,000. The heart's signal is so vastly dominant that its rhythmic field envelops every cell of the body and also extends out in all directions into the space around us.
Our hearts have been found to contain the same neural cells as our brains. It is our heart that possesses emotional intelligence, that both thinks and feels. This thinking/feeling heart can be the dynamic core of all our perceptions and the leader in our interactions with all other life.
In order to skillfully address the profound challenges that are emerging throughout the world, fresh skills and expanded vision are increasingly crucial. Shifting the source of our primary perceptions can empower us to bring our full, open, loving and compassionate hearts and spirits, that which has been informed by our deep and timeless connectedness to the earth, front and center and into our everyday lives.
I am proposing that we begin to seriously – and with full attention, as though our very lives and the future life of our planet depend on it – begin to bring our focus to connecting with, nurturing, developing, listening to and responding to the world from our wild hearts. I want us to empathize, to care deeply, no matter what the price or the pain, and nurture the opening of this wild heart consciousness within. Doing so will help us to develop our higher human senses and faculties and lead to the realization of our truest human/divine nature. At this critical point in time, the world requires and deserves nothing less of us.
Shifting our perspectives brings the fruit of new inspiration, strength and courage to the immensely important work of defending our wild places, our beloved planet and all the local and diverse inhabitants with whom we share our home.
I am referring now not only to the plants, animals and places, the so-called biosphere that we love, but also to the peoples, cultures and traditions, or the ethnosphere. For indigenous lands, peoples, languages and cultures are every bit as threatened in today’s world, and as valuable and indispensable, as the many plants, animals and places we now list and defend as endangered or at risk.
I am calling your attention to vital new growth – a new and vibrant bud is branching out from the Great World Tree of our ancient and beloved Wise Woman tradition. My hope is that together we will nurture, refine and tend to its flowering and fruiting.
The Way of the Wild Heart. May it serve us, our earth and all future generations well.
Hail Changing Woman
Mother of the Seasons
Guardian of the processes of nature
Navajo Holy Woman
Who knows the secrets of the many plants and roots
Whose song is called the Blessing Way
Who forever walks the
Trail of Beauty
Please walk with us a while now.